Hand Washing

By: Rachel Calderon
By: Rachel Calderon

It's the time of year when hand washing is critical to prevent the spread of viruses. But it's a whole different story for General Surgeon Suzanne Hanses.

Hand washing is one of many steps she takes before performing surgery. Lathering up protects her from sick patients and it can protect the patient from infection.

"People who get infections after surgery will stay in the hospital longer, they'll have higher costs, it'll take longer to recover from wounds. There's significant morbidity, and a small degree of mortality associated with surgery infections so it's of the utmost importance to do what we can to prevent them," Dr. Suzanne Hanses.

Ingham Regional Medical Center has two hand washing programs designed to maintain a clean environment. A thorough scrub of nails and hands takes place before each procedure, which is harsh on the skin and time consuming.

On an average day, nurses can spend up to 16 patient care hours washing their hands with soap and water. But the alcohol-based scrubs that cut that time to four patient care hours are not only quicker but are more effective in preventing infection.

"Alcohol based hand rubs in addition to being more effective are better for the skin. They have more amollients and lotions so it helps moisturize while you're using them," said Renee Patterson, infection control manager.

Renee adds staff members find the new products so convenient, the hospital is looking into teaching other facilities like hospices in hand washing.

In the meantime, Dr. Hanses preps for surgery, knowing she's taken steps to ensure a healthy doctor, but more importantly, a healthy patient.

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Hand Washing Facts

  • What is the single most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of infection? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s washing our hands.

  • In a review of contributing factors to food-borne disease outbreaks over a five-year period, the CDC reports that poor personal hygiene was a contributing factor in over a third of the outbreaks.

  • In one nationwide study, 94 percent of consumers surveyed said they always washed their hands after using the restroom. However, observers planted in public restrooms in five major cities found that only 68 percent, in fact, did so.

  • Women were more likely than men to wash up (74 versus 61 percent), but neither came close to what they said they did.

  • Here are the five most common household scenarios in which disease-causing germs are transmitted by contaminated hands:
    • Hands to food: Germs are transmitted from unclean hands to food, usually by infected food preparers who didn’t wash their hands after using the toilet. The germs are then passed to those who eat the food.

    • Infected infant to hands to other children: Germs are passed from an infant with diarrhea to the hands of a parent or care giver when a diaper is changed. Unless the caregiver immediately washes his or her hands, the germs are then passed to the second child he or she works with.

    • Food to hands to food: Germs are transmitted from raw, uncooked foods, such as chicken, to hands, and then onto other foods, such as salad. Cooking the raw food kills the initial germs, but the salad remains contaminated.

    • Nose, mouth or eyes to hands to others: Germs that cause colds, eye infections and other illnesses are spread to hands by sneezing, coughing, or rubbing the eyes. They are then transferred to other family members or friends through direct contact or through foods handled by the infected person.

    • Food to hands to infants: Germs are transmitted from raw, uncooked foods to infants by parents or care givers who don’t wash their hands between handling raw chicken, for example, and tending to an infant.

How Should You Wash Your Hands?

  • The CDC recommends vigorous scrubbing with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing with clear water and drying with a clean towel.

  • Any type of soap will do. It’s not necessary to use anti-bacterial soap. In fact, the American Academy of Microbiology warns against widespread use of anti-microbial products because they are likely to lead to the development of more resistant bacteria.

  • Here are four simple hand-washing steps:
    • Wet your hands with warm running water.

    • Add soap, then rub your hands together, making a soapy lather. Do this away from the running water for at least 10 seconds, being careful not to wash the lather away. Wash the front and back of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails.

    • Rinse your hands well under warm running water. Let the water run back into the sink, not down to your elbows. Turn off the water with a paper towel and dispose in a proper receptacle.

    • Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel.

Sources: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnnn/nn010320.html (The Colorado State University Nutrition News Web site) and http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/955074416.html (HealthLink Medical College of Wisconsin) contributed to this report.


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